Kane Engineering Limited celebrates 50-year milestone

Kane Engineering Limited is one of the best-known names in NI’s electrical industry and a leading supplier of low voltage electrical switchgear; we look back over its history, people and projects along the way...

LV Switchboard assembly area in Kane Engineering’s Newtownards factory.

Before Kane Engineering was established as a limited company, founder Raymond Kane (now retired) had been dipping a toe into the switchgear market part-time, trading as ‘Century Engineering’, whilst also holding down a full-time job as an Electrical Foreman for Hendron Bros.

When he later decided that the business had enough potential to take it on full-time, he saved up enough money to pay the mortgage and family bills for the six months ahead. He established the business in March 1971 as ‘Kane Engineering Limited’.

The company name’s choice was straightforward in hindsight; Raymond was setting out to build a business he could be proud of, and there was no better way of keeping the focus on that than by putting his own name on every product to be designed and manufactured.

The early days
The company’s first business premises were in Belfast – which turned out not to be the best location for a new business during the turbulent 1970s. After a couple of years, Raymond decided to relocate to a rented industrial unit in South Street, Newtownards. Not long after that, with the business quickly gaining a good reputation amongst electrical contractors, he decided to build a new factory in Glenford Industrial Estate in the town, a location that has been expanded over the years and remains the base of operations and manufacturing today.

LEFT: Company director Damien Kane with a completed ‘Form 4’ ABB switchboard.
RIGHT: Raymond Kane with switchboard, c.1980.

With the move to a new factory, Kane Engineering was one of the first companies to move away from ‘industrial pattern’ switchgear to the more modern ‘cubicle pattern’.

Kane Engineering brought a new world of circuit breakers to a market that had been previously dominated by fuse switchgear. One key strategic partnership was with Merlin Gerin (later to become Schneider Electric), which Kane introduced to the NI market through an exclusive distributorship in 1976. The French brand was certainly unknown to the local market at the time, and the introduction of the name Merlin Gerin to customers was often met with the reply, “Merlin, who?”

French accents aside, Kane Engineering was responsible for establishing the brand in Northern Ireland and even became Merlin Gerin’s biggest customer in the UK for their modular ‘Prisma’ steelwork system.

1980’s – A period of change and innovation
During this decade, Kane Engineering continued to grow its local market presence, becoming a market leader. Other switchgear companies such as ‘Kelvin Manufacturing’ and ‘Heating Controls & Devices’ faded out of the market through lack of competitiveness and innovation. For Kane Engineering, innovation was always the key to staying successful, being the first company to introduce CAD systems in the late 1980s, and always looking out for new supplier and customer opportunities.

1990’s – New partnerships and new people
Kane Engineering was heavily involved in the TQM (Total Quality Management) approach to business in the early 1990s, and further investment in I.T. systems kept the company as the preferred choice for quality and value in LV panels. Raymond’s daughter, Paula, was a director in the business during this period and played a key role in driving the quality systems and process improvements, which resulted in Kane Engineering being recognised as the winner of the ‘NI Quality award’ 1992.

Damien Kane graduated from university in 1992, and after working in London for a period, joined the family business in 1994 and took the role of Managing Director when Raymond retired in 1998.

During the mid-’90s, Kane Engineering built its first Cubic Modular system panel, a partnership that has gone from strength to strength over the past 25 years. Kane was Northern Ireland’s first ‘Accredited system builder’, and Cubic now supplies all of Kane’s modular steelwork and busbar systems. “Cubic’s business model is ‘the customer as partner’ and this is something we’ve tried to take on board with all our own customers and suppliers over the years,” said Damien.

Social distancing in the workshop has become the new normal, and Kane’s seven female members of staff unfortunately were all working remotely on photo day!

PEOPLE…

Investment in people is at the heart of Kane Engineering’s continued growth and success…

The year 2009 saw a significant change in Kane’s organisational structure, with Damien being joined on the board of directors by Peter and Michelle Mallon, who had approached Kane Engineering seeking a strategic partnership in LV switchgear with their Cookstown-based business, EPS Environmental (now Enisca Ltd).

Peter and Michelle have since retired from Enisca and continue to apply their skills and experience to Kane Engineering, helping to grow the business in the Irish and GB markets.

Damien explained, “Having non-family Directors join the family business for the first time gave us a new perspective on the company and where the growth opportunities might lie. As a result, the company has grown over 300% in size in the last decade, and we’re now in a strong position to grow further.” With over 30 staff at present, running a manufacturing business in the time of Covid has required some new ways of doing things. Damien reflects on the challenges of the last 12 months, “Who would have thought that on top of the difficulties brought about by Brexit, we would also have to deal with a global pandemic!”

To play their part in stopping the spread of the disease, most of Kane’s engineering and admin staff have been working remotely for the last year. “We’re fortunate to have invested heavily in our I.T. systems over the last couple of years, as staff in multiple locations now have high-speed access to our server, and video calls – with staff and customers alike – have become the new way of doing things.”

Damien particularly commends the effort of key staff members, Stephen Spiers (Engineering Manager) and Nikki Caskey (Operations Manager), who have both been with the company for over twenty years, and have really shown that they understand the business and the people in it, to keep things running smoothly during this challenging period.

“We have key customers in the telecoms and data centre sectors, as well as in healthcare, and food retail, so it has been imperative that we can continue to deliver the same high standards of product and service,” said Damien. “It is our dedicated staff who have made that possible for us in 2020, and that now sets us up for a renewed period of growth in 2021.”

PROJECTS…

Kane Engineering Ltd’s uncompromising product design and build quality has delivered low voltage solutions throughout the UK and Ireland…

You don’t have to look too far around the province to find a building whose electrical systems run on Kane Engineering switchgear. The company’s switchboards can be found in all types of commercial, industrial and residential developments, including Titanic Belfast, the PRONI building, Belfast MET in Titanic Quarter and the ICC – formerly Belfast Waterfront Conference & Exhibition Centre, Grand Central Hotel and The Grand Opera House – to name but a few.

Current prestigious switchgear projects for Kane Engineering in Belfast City Centre include Blocks ‘BC’ and ‘BD’ at Ulster University’s new £360m campus on York St., (for Dowds Group and Michael Nugent Ltd.) and the 250,000 square foot Grade A office development at City Quays III (for Harvey M&E).

The company has also reached another milestone, having just logged its 6,000th project into the order book. This particular job is for the LV switchgear for the new Queen’s University Management School at the Riddel Hall site on Stranmillis Road. It follows on from Kane having supplied the LV switchgear for the Riddel Hall buildings’ refurbishment around 12 years ago.

Damien Kane commenteed, “We’ve worked on many projects at QUB over the years, including the Sonic Arts Research Centre, the Medical research centre at City Hospital, and the Queen’s Film Theatre. It’s great to be working with electrical contractor JD McGeown and consulting engineers AH design on what will be our milestone ‘K6000’ job number, with several high specification switchboards soon to move into manufacture.”

PRODUCTS…

Kane Engineering continues to supply the most technologically advanced products in the constantly evolving switchgear sector…

Much has changed in switchgear technology over the decades. Kane Engineering continues to be a market leader in both the products supplied and how LV panels are manufactured.
Damien said, “A couple of years ago, Kane Engineering began supplying high amperage panels into the data centre market, and we found that to process high volumes of copper bar into busbar components more efficiently and cost-effectively, we had to re-think our processes.”

Kane decided to invest in two state-of-the-art CNC busbar machines, one to automatically cut and punch copper from the company’s CAD component library and the other for automated bending into the parts required for panel busbar systems. Peter Mallon, Technical Director, commented, “The difference between our old manual copper preparation methods and the volumes we can process now, is like night and day. It’s given the company the operational capacity to take on some of the bigger LV panel projects and to do so very efficiently.”

Continuing this line of investment, the company is soon to take delivery of a new CNC punching machine/guillotine to replace a hard-working machine that has been in almost daily use for most of the last 50 years. Peter explained, “We have to keep investing in our systems and manufacturing technology if we are to remain at the forefront in a competitive market sector.” ‘Smart’ trends Two of the latest switchboard business trends are ‘smart’ panels and design integration through BIM. Kane is Schneider’s only ‘smart panel’ partner in Northern Ireland and is training to become a Schneider ‘EcoXpert’ for this new circuit breaker and metering technology.

Furthermore, Kane has invested in the latest panel design software by SEE Electrical, enabling better and more detailed 3D switchboard models which can integrate seamlessly with Cubic’s design software for their modular system. In conclusion, Kane Engineering is gearing up for the next steps in its journey, but without ever forgetting where the business has come from.

The company that once started out as ‘Century Engineering’ has reached its half-century and still upholds its founding values of excellent product quality and acting with integrity with employees, customers, and suppliers.

As Damien put it, “Today we have loyal customers who seek us out by name. They don’t just settle for any LV switchboard for their projects; they ask for a ‘Kane panel’ and that’s something that everyone in Kane Engineering can be very proud of.”


Kane Engineering Ltd, Glenford Road, Newtownards, Co Down, BT23 4AU
T: +44 (0)28 9181 4465 – E: [email protected]
www.kane-engineering.co.uk